Are you looking for an unforgettable way to experience the breathtaking beauty of New Zealand’s South Island?
Then you should add the TranzAlpine train to your must-see list: this iconic journey takes you through some of the country’s most stunning landscapes.
Starting in Christchurch on the west coast and ending in Greymouth to the east, this route travels through sweeping plains, breathtaking mountains and gorges, and beautiful green valleys.
Let’s have a look at what you can expect on your TranzAlpine journey!
History of the TranzAlpine Train
The history of the TranzAlpine dates back to the early 20th century when the government of New Zealand began looking for ways to connect the east and west coasts of the South Island. The rugged terrain posed a significant barrier to transportation—the solution was to construct a railway line connecting Christchurch and Greymouth, passing through the Southern Alps via the alpine village of Arthur’s Pass.
Construction of the railway line was completed in the late 1920s, and was considered an engineering marvel—tunnels, viaducts, and other frameworks were built to overcome the incredibly challenging terrain.
In 1987, recognizing the tourism potential of this rail line, New Zealand upgraded the carriages and improved infrastructure, and launched the TranzAlpine passenger service to immediate success.
The TranzAlpine has remained one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country; it’s currently operated by Great Journeys New Zealand, which also runs several different scenic railways throughout both the North and South Islands.
The train journey offers an immersive and unforgettable way to experience the beauty of the South Island, with panoramic views of the Waimakariri River, the Southern Alps, and Arthur’s Pass. The train also offers different classes of service, including standard class, premier class, and a scenic class with open-air viewing carriages.
What You’ll See on the TranzAlpine Train
The TranzAlpine’s daily journey—which lasts about five hours one way—begins in Christchurch, the largest city on New Zealand’s South Island.
The train departs from the historic Christchurch Railway Station, located in the heart of the city. From there, it travels westward, passing through the Canterbury plains and then the town of Springfield. This is the last stop before reaching the mountains and the breathtaking Waimakariri River Gorge.
As the TranzAlpine train continues, it enters the Southern Alps. The Southern Alps are a majestic mountain range that runs much of the length of the South Island. You’ll pass over bridges and through tunnels, and have the opportunity to see Mount Binser—Great Journeys New Zealand recommends that you make sure to visit the open-air carriage to see a panoramic view of the landscape here.
The train passes through the alpine village of Arthur’s Pass, which is located in the heart of the Southern Alps—the town and nearby Arthur’s Pass National Park are popular destinations for hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts.
As you descend from the Southern Alps and through the Otira Tunnel, you’ll reach beautiful green valleys, followed by swampland and forests at Moana and Lake Brunner.
The final destination of the TranzAlpine is Greymouth, a small town located on the west coast. This historic town is known for its gold-mining heritage and beautiful coastal scenery. Passengers can disembark at Greymouth Railway Station and explore the town, or continue their journey to other destinations.
The train stops at several places throughout its journey, allowing passengers to take a break, stretch their legs, and take in the views.
Plan Your Trip on the TranzAlpine Train
When planning a trip on the TranzAlpine, there are a few things to keep in mind.
As with any tour, booking your tickets in advance is essential—this train can fill up quickly, especially during peak travel seasons (December through February). The TranzAlpine operates year-round, and the scenery and weather can vary depending on when you travel. For example, the summer months offer the best chance for clear, sunny weather and lush green landscapes, while the winter months allow you to see snow-capped peaks and possibly even some snowfall along the route.
The train has a flexible ticketing schedule, so you don’t have to travel the full route from Christchurch to Greymouth if that doesn’t fit with your other sightseeing plans. You can pick up the TranzAlpine at any stop along its route—for example, you could start at Arthur’s Pass and end in Christchurch if that’s what you’d prefer.
The TranzAlpine offers two types of seating: Scenic and Scenic Plus. Prices vary depending on your travel dates and departure and arrival destinations.
- Scenic: Offers spacious, reclining seats and panoramic views, plus access to the cafe carriage. You can also take advantage of the open-air carriage, and enjoy audio commentary to learn more about the sights you’ll see along the way.
- Scenic Plus: Offers spacious seating and panoramic views as well, plus skylights and fresh food and wine served directly to your seat. The hosts here will also tell you about the history of the TranzAlpine and the places you’ll see as you make your way from coast to coast.
If you’re planning a New Zealand trip, you would truly be missing out if you didn’t add a journey on the TranzAlpine. Whether you want to make a round-trip or start on one coast and hop off on the opposite one, it’s a fantastic way to see some of the South Island’s gorgeous landscapes and experience firsthand an incredible feat of engineering.
Have you had the opportunity to travel on the TranzAlpine train? What about other famous railways around the world? Share your experience with the Frayed Passport community!
Interested in other train routes? Check out these articles!
About the Author
As the editor-in-chief of Frayed Passport, my goal is to help you build a lifestyle that lets you travel the world whenever you want and however long you want, and not worry about where your next paycheck will come from. I've been to 20+ countries and five continents, lived for years as a full-time digital nomad, and have worked completely remotely since 2015. If you would like to share your story with our community, or partner with Frayed Passport, get in touch with me at email@example.com!
Featured image by nzsteam on Wikimedia Commons.